Monday, July 2, 2012

Four Years of Couponing... and still counting!

The month of July marks my four year anniversary of living a hip, frugal, and thrifty lifestyle. I have been blessed in the past four years, with the savings and lifestyle changes that couponing and thriftiness have brought about. When looking back to 2008, I began my journey with my first apartment. I had recently graduated from college, and having my "own" mailbox, knowing everything was always addressed to you, meant, also that *all* the bills were addressed to you. My friend Kelley suggested that I sign up for free samples. It was awesome to have something to get "excited" about when checking them mail. From there, I stumbled upon to coupon match-ups for grocery stores and drugstores and all around  deal websites, and then I discovered awesome D-I-Y dollar store craft blogs until Pinterest came around... further feeding my frugal yet creative appetite. I was able to have my single-girl stockpile of toiletries, (no nuclear disaster prep here ;), food always filled in the pantry (sometimes my freezer looked like a game of Tetris), set up a budget, have spending and splurge money, decorate my shabby-chic apartment on a shoestring, and feed my dog for free Science Diet food and fun treats thanks to sales and coupons. Although there are many struggles in this economy, couponing has allowed me to stretch money a bit further. I am truly blessed.

When I started this blog, it was not with the intention to be a "go-to" resource for coupon match-ups, but to share how couponing and thriftiness have helped me, and how easy it can be, in a moderate, non-extreme way. I plan to dive back into blogging and posting on Facebook and Twitter, so hopefully you may get inspired or find a neat deal or two yourself. :) In May, I relocated from Montgomery, AL to my hometown. Let me tell you, I never realized how "settled" you get with your couponing ways in a city. Three things I've learned moving to a new city as a couponer which have helped me re-affirm my commitment to living a frugal lifestyle:

1) Re-assess your environment. There are quite a few shelf-clearers where I'm at. And, it happened in Montgomery, but unfortunately my new city seems to have a lot of frugal hip folks! ;) I found myself getting frustrated when couponing since living here, and I had to tell myself, it's not the end of the world if they are out of ____ that I was getting for my sister/grandma/friend/single-girl stockpile. One of my favorite experiences yet, well, more like a couponer reality check, was when I popped into CVS for some Excedrin. When I passed by the haircare aisle, there were two ladies sitting on the floor.... with coupons spread out everywhere. Unfortunately, I couldn't help but gawk. I walked away telling myself, "THAT'S why there's never any xyz when I go shopping! Those EXTREME couponers!" And, there were THREE buggies full of products down the aisle. I told myself as I was checking out that they were purchasing it and donating it to shelters, nursing homes, etc, so I wouldn't explode. Empty shelves happen. Luckily, I've educated myself on Publix's raincheck policy, and found that, hey, sometimes it works in my favor to have a raincheck on something, because, maybe there's not room in the freezer at home right now. And most of all, put it into perspective. Also, when I moved, I realized that the Publix in my new city did not double coupons up to 50 cents. This was a bummer, as often I was able to score free items, but with the loss of that, I realized that my new Publix accepted Target as a competitor, which made for even more awesome deals, and also accepted Dollar General coupons as a competitor, which helped as Dollar General has numerous $5 off $25 coupon offers, which help save money, as I like to refer to the $5 off $25 or $30 bucks coupons as my Willy Wonka "Golden Tickets" ;) So, there are trade offs, which turn out to be better in the long run. 

2) Re-establish relationships with cashiers and re-establish your couponing routine. I will say, I sure do miss my folks at the Zelda Road Publix and Walgreens in Montgomery. Since I shopped on a "schedule" of sorts, often Friday/Saturday nights, I got to see the same cashiers over and over, and struck up conversation. It was nice when they'd ask, what do you think your grand total will be after coupons? Since moving, I've had to try and be a Southern Belle and sweet talk all the new cashiers, as unfortunately, I've had one or two of "those" experiences where I get this vibe and non-verbal language that they're saying... "Oh no, one of THOSE crazy couponers..." so I've tried to do everything I can as a couponer to make it easier for them, such as telling them I have coupons, and setting the coupons on top/next to the item so the could verify they matched the item size/quantity/etc, as, in Montgomery, after doing this with my cashiers, once they knew me, they'd scan away. I've started conversations with cashiers introducing myself to them, and telling them that their store is my new CVS/Publix/Walgreens since I moved to the area. This generates conversation, makes it hopefully a little monotonous for them, and also, alleviates a LOT of the silence when they're looking over the coupons for all the verification, authenticity, quantity, size checks they do. At Publix, if I've genuinely had a good experience, I've told the cashiers that I was going to jot a compliment note on thanking them for their extra service. Since having to "start all over" of sorts, it's really nice to have an awesome couponing experience, or shopping experience in general, so a 5 minute note of thanks is worth it to me. There's nothing worse than an awkward or awful cashier experience to me, so I try to put that at ease. I will say, my most favorite couponing shopping trip to date was when I went grocery shopping at Publix with a friend. We checked out and a young high-school boy was our cashier and another as our bagger. Towards the middle of the conversation, they had us laughing, as the cashier kept saying, can we get it under $20??? Can we? Come on, one dollar, 25 cents, let's get it under $20! Also, with re-establishing your coupon routine, I've asked cashiers at Publix, when's the best time to shop, as in, when is it less crowded and/or when do shipments generally arrive? This way, the cashier can take as long as he wants to look over my coupons, without other customers in line behind me, and also to make sure that I get all the items on my list when they are most stocked, so I can use my $5 off $25 or $30 coupon and not need to re-plan my shopping trip due to outages. ;)

3.) Re-affirm your reason for living a frugal lifestyle. For me, it's always been trying to "make it" in this economy, graduating college, working, and making ends meet. I don't think anyone ever complained of saving too much money, as it seems there are always bills or something to have to pay or save for. Though I don't have a family yet (other than my four legged furry child ;) couponing helps me with my budget, knowing how much money I have to spend, and challenging myself to stretch my food budget more, as well as meal planning, and being conscious of eating out. Sometimes I tell myself, do I really want an $8 Zaxby's chicken strips meal? Although I do, I remember how many shopping trips I've had in the past month, year, four years of couponing and all the loot I've been able to get for that same $8, I resist the urge, and as we all know, dining out is expensive! Since moving, and adjusting to this new couponing geographic market, I've felt less empowered by couponing, because of a few negative experiences. And, when I've grocery shopped with friends, I would constantly complain for pulling out coupons when shopping, and criticize myself for being one of those crazy couponers. And I had let the perceived thoughts of others get to me. I was purchasing the groceries, so it was my money to save, yet I constantly apologized. Since moving to my hometown, I've actually been able to use my couponing skills for good, of others, including family and friends. I've bought a few free items to give to my Mom and Grandma, scored some sweet baby & toddler deals for a friend, and even am trying to get my sister to hop on the couponing train! 

So, all in all, four years of couponing is pretty good. I am not one to "log" my savings in a spreadsheet, nor stockpile for a nuclear disaster, nor to let couponing interfere with my lifestyle. I do enjoy seeing how much I saved at the bottom of my receipt each shopping trip though! ;) Sometimes people say it takes too much work, but in my opinion, it's like a hobby, a productive and efficient one. I try not to let it get me down, and realize, the benefits are worth it for me. And don't ever let it consume your life like those folks on that silly Extreme Couponing TV show.  

And, on that note, if you feel like being 23 and thrifty, check out my favorite couponing sites: 


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